Driving Florida Keys always fun, even in a hardtop ... Awesome Key West food
The last time I drove to the Florida Keys I felt like all I saw were discount t-shirt shops and roadside bars. It felt like there was very little water to be seen.
Funny, and maybe because I was expecting a Florida version of Kingston Rd, but this time, I felt like the balance was more on the water side. Of course, it helps when your rental car XM radio plays Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" just as you reach the Shark Key cut and the mangroves open up to reveal green-blue water and dark patches of reef and deep blue skky stretching out in all directions.
We stopped along the way at the Key Lime Tree roadside stand in Key Largo, where they have key lime juice and key lime bath salts and key lime anything else you can think of. The woman behind the register insisted (everyone does, I guess) that theirs is THE BEST key lime pie in the state.
She went on a long rant about the evils of meringue on top of a key lime pie, explaining how it ruins the pie and never tastes good, anyway. For the unitiated, there are devotees of key lime pie with whipped cream and devotees of meringue. I think folks in Florida would rather defend the virtues of New York City and communism than give in on what they think is the proper approach to key lime pie.
Anyway, the pie at Key Lime Tree was reasonably good but it was so cold as to be nearly frozen. And I don't think it was real whipped cream on top. So I'd give it a B-minus.
Still, it's a fun place to stop and look at the fish decorations for sale and the colourful, painted tables and chairs. Some of the chairs had names like "avocado" or "mango" with paintings of the fruit. Others, naturally, were called "key lime."
At this time of year, in this year, anyway, there are a gazillion signs for elections along the road; mayors and school boards (Andy Griffiths is running for school board, by the way) and such. The best I saw were signs for folks running for the mosquito board.
"Hey, Marg," I can hear some guy in Islamorada saying over burritos after a Dolphins game on Sunday. "You know how I'm always coming up with those interesting facts about mosquitos? LIke how they bite and how it gets all itchy and stuff? I think I'm gonna run for that mosquito board."
Some guys aim high. President. Governor. Mayor, even. But, no, some guys decide that his fate, or at least his electoral career, is going to be launched on the wings of tiny, stinging insects.
Still, that probably beats gunning for the wastewater board. I mean, I'd MUCH rather be an expert on mosquitos than wastewater, if you know what I mean.
FInally rolled into Key West in mid-afternoon, just in time for some grilled, blackened shrimp on rice at Alonzo's on the waterfront. It's part of a wharf development near the Hyatt, just a couple blocks from Mallory Square. It's a pretty area with a lot of luscious boats and several restaurants. The shrimp was excellent; nice and spicy and about seven plump fellas on a small bed of yellow rice and peas for about $12, I think.
We checked into the Key Lime in on Truman Ave, also Highway 1. It's a tad noisy during the day with traffic but at night it was just fine.
The Key Lime is part of a series of historic hotels/inns in Key West, including the next-door Chelsea House. Key Lime features a series of small cottages, some alone and some in duplex style, painted in shades of soft avocado green, pale yellow, white and lavender. Our room had lovely, dark wood floors and a nice, poster-style queen bed with soft green cushions and pineapple motif lamps. Not a large room, but there's a coffee maker and a small fridge and a large shower and a flat-screen TV that was just as big as the one I had on Saturday night at the downtown Hilton in Miami.
It ain't the Westin or the lovely Casa Marina resort, but it's comfy and cozy and fun and bright and convenient; just two blocks off Duval.
Rooms are less than $200, so it's a pretty good spot. The woman behind the desk when we checked in was a HUGE help, steering us to Kelly's for excellent margaritas (no pre-made mix) and to Alonzo's and to a capital-F FABULOUS spot around the corner on Elizabeth St. called SevenFish, where I had an incredible snapper in yellow curry with veggies and rice. Absolutely stunning food, albeit a tad pricey at $29. There's not much atmosphere, with plain white walls and a couple of pieces of art with fishes. Seven in each case, I think. And folks are packed pretty tight.
They make up for it with some colourful lights over the tiny bar and large windows for gazing outside. Mostly, they make up for it with tremendous food. My wife had grouper with mango chutney that was out of this world good.
We also shared a large, soft, meaty crab cake the size of a huge baked potato, with a ginger glaze that was quite good.
More Key West to come on Tuesday ...
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